What a Day One
The sun was lazily creeping over the western horizon, a typical cold windy Shanhaiguan morning.
Emotions running high, we bid farewell to the ocean and headed out into the cold morning air full of excitement and in a way incredibly nervous for the journey ahead. We ran about 14 to 18 km and then, there it was; the Great Wall.
It looked as if it owned the horizon as it extended into the mountain, zig-zagging its way through the valleys and across the peaks.
From a distance it looks like a solid structure, but once you are on it it’s a different beast; crumbling bits, sections have fallen away, and some pieces are now non-existent. The map that we were following actually shows a void in the area that we were heading through. It was incredibly tough going; you climb up on the crumbling structure then alongside it then over and to the other side and so on you go. Wild Date shrubs have these small hook thorns that are constantly tearing your legs to shreds as the blood streams down your shins and turns your socks crimson red.
Then there is the wall itself.
The wall was built to defend, deceive, and trick the enemy. Twice it did exactly this to us. It is said, “The Wall takes ownership of the mountain”, this is where it runs to a dead end on a massive cliff face. This happened to us twice. The first time we were stuck looking down at a 300-metre drop. Two hours later we had managed to backtrack and get down the ravine and up the other side to connect with the wall again, on we pushed and scrambled our way into the late afternoon, desperate to get to our meeting point.
The second time we were not so lucky. The wall split, and we took the bigger section up into the mountain, only to find once again it ran dead. This time there was about an 800-metre drop all around, no way down or around. Our only option was to climb higher up the mountain and find a way to cross the valley. We just climbed ourselves tighter and tighter into a bad situation that only got worse, on top of this we were quickly losing day light, it was beginning to get freezing and we had to get down. For four hours we fought our way across cliff ledges, through the brush.
We eventually felt that our lives and safety were tinkering on a knife edge.
We had decided not to rush it or panic as night began to settle in, there was nothing we could do about this. If we lost light, we all came to an agreement we would find shelter and sit out the cold evening.
The situation was now serious.
I then heard a shout, it was Andy he had found a marker and it looked like there was a goat trail along the edge of the cliff face to our left. Bit by bit Andy cautiously walked along the edge as we followed watching every step. We were now once again making progress, down, down we went, our hearts pounding as we slipped and slid down the shale face. Then, disaster again; 30 minutes later we were trapped, night was nearly on us. Up, down we went left and right looking for a way down.
There was nothing.
We finally decided to pull back and head up to safety and wait the night out. Then something caught my eye. I walked as close to the edge as possible to get a better view. Yes, there it was the goat trail again.
Down we went, slowly making our way through the shrubbery, then we heard dogs barking. What a relief, this meant there must be a home. There in the distance we saw massive statues of Buddha and in the fading light the sheen of the roof of a monastery and, we were safe.
After all this, we ended up just 3 km from our planned meeting point. The crew were overjoyed to see us, as they told us of their arrangements with the village; if we were not down by 8 o’clock, they had arranged a search party of 20 villagers that would go out and look for us.
What a start…